The Visit: Some Thrills, Mostly Ridiculous!

The VisitWriter/director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Happening) is no stranger to controversy. He is also no stranger to making bad movies. The Visit, despite some genuinely good tension and scares, is an incoherent catastrophe, a splashy blend of tones and stories that make this overall experience wholly unpleasant for all the wrong reasons.

Premise: A visit to Nana and Pop Pop’s house goes south. Result: Scary moments can’t make up for this nonsense.

Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are off on a very strange journey to meet their grandparents for the first time in their young lives. Their mother Kathryn Hahn has been estranged from them for the better part of 15 years but a recent failed marriage and a heart-felt plea from these alienated parents increases the likelihood of this meeting, even if she remains far away.

The entire journey shall be documented by precocious Becca, a burgeoning documentarian that increases both the annoyance factor as well as plausibility of the found-footage delivery.

Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie), as the children call them instantly, are quaint enough geriatrics, often glancing on like mummified corpses one moment and then animating with a dexterity seen in frightened animals the next. But boy can Nana bake! And clean! But it is only when strange noises start being heard outside their room does the true terror begin.

The rest of the film is basically three different components mashed together unsuccessfully. First, the actually horror aspects of the film. These are actually well done, with some effective tension and other terrifying events such as a minor chase scene under the house and more than one late-night encounter. A moment between Becca and Tyler’s Mom and her own parents is one of those breathtaking moments that signals Shyamalan at his best.

But alas, there is much too much nonsense that dilutes what Shyamalan does well. For one thing, the insufferable backstory – children coping with betrayal and a mother struggling with past choices- infects rather than improves the overall experience. At first it is good and serves to generate some emotional plausibility to an otherwise confounding turn of events.

The_Visit - IndependentWhat is so frustrating here is that it is apparent that Shyamalan is not just lazily hurtling family-drama cliché at audiences – the characters at least attempt to have complex emotions. But the complexity nevertheless crumbles under the weakness of Shyamalan’s writing, inevitably becoming hackneyed and painful.

The children’s trauma in the form of acute OCD and an inability to look at oneself in the mirror are meta in ways Shyamalan can’t handle and come off as sudden facts shoveled onto unsuspecting viewers. The kid’s seem clueless.

If the drama wasn’t bad enough, the children themselves are almost more bizarre than the crazy grandparents. To be fair both come off as precocious and there are several funny moments with them but Tyler and his rapping is pure agony. At least on three occasions Shyamalan forces all of us to witness long, impromptu and otherwise unwatchable “rapping” (other words?!?) – the type of experience that most normal people would stop instantly on YouTube, shut down their laptop and then set it on fire after initial exposure. But they keep coming. And this juxtaposed with Becca’s overly-precocious docu-nerdom and pointless ethical rules make the whole second half of the film terribly tedious.

The acting overall is fair all things considered. Dunagan and McRobbie offer a veteran turn around confusing madness and fear that is a lesson to all. Hahn is actually quite good in a departure from her normally comedic roles, even if she is mostly relegated to skype sessions and melo-drama.

DeJonge and Oxenbould themselves are good, equipped with some comedic timing and shrieks when needed. They certainly fray when required to spout out the pseudointellectual psycho-banter that plagues much of this film, but its hard to fault them in a Shamylan film.

In the end, this is a movie made, quite possible, by an insane person. An atonal monstrosity it does so much well and so much painfully wrong. Perhaps to really make a comeback, Shyamalan needs a partner – and certainly someone who will tell him, “no”.

Rating: 4 – A case of PBR and a “Dear John” letter

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